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Mystery Behind Hysteria

Author: Andy Lin

Editors: Zhengze Ye and Hwi-On Lee

Artist: Cici Zhang

Hysteria, for thousands of years, has been a mystery to scientists. Hysteria has been considered a disease related to females and has been labeled under many names, from “medically unexplained” to “non-organic” (Edwards et al., 2012). Hysteria was thought to be caused by sexual frustration, and the symptoms of hysteria were understood differently in different periods (Tasca et al., 2012). In ancient Greece, female hysteria was considered normal due to sexual desire (Chodoff, 1982). On the other hand, in the Middle Ages, women with hysteria were viewed as witches and accused of witchcraft to seduce men in the Middle Ages (Trimble & Reynolds, 2016).

Hysteria has always been associated with women, which is why the concept of a “hysterical woman” has always been present. Only women have been in hysteria studies, while men have never been studied. This leads to the different perceptions of women with hysteria and men with hysteria. Women will be viewed as “hysterical” as they react with disproportionate emotion compared to the given situation. Moreover, people consider that hysteria is present in both genders for various reasons. Hysteria in males is thought to be caused by a traumatic experience, while hysteria in women is believed to be caused by sexuality or emotional distress.

There are many symptoms of hysteria. These symptoms include blindness, hallucinations, loss of sensation, histrionic behavior, and emotional outbursts. Causes of hysteria range from childhood abuse which can be physical, sexual, or emotional to just being involved in a natural disaster. Moreover, in Freud’s perspective, women would experience hysteria because of the loss of their metaphoric penis. And to be cured, women would have to marry a man to fulfill her loss. Other treatments in the past, includes forcing the woman to orgasm to release excess liquid and placing leeches on her abdomen to reduce blood in the womb. At present, treatments range from physiotherapy with psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, cognitive and behavior therapy, and antidepressants and anxiolytics.

Instead of the disorder being regarded as an expression of women’s malaise, it is now regarded as conversion disorder, which is the occurrence of various sensory or psychic disturbances without any underlying cause. These conditions include paralysis and seizures. Renaming hysteria has helped wind down the strong, opposing views on women as the word itself is closely associated with women.

 

Citations:

Chodoff, Paul. “Hysteria and Women.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 1 Apr. 2006,

ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.139.5.545.

Edwards, Mark J., et al. “Bayesian Account of 'Hysteria'.” OUP Academic, Oxford University

Press, 28 May 2012, academic.oup.com/brain/article/135/11/3495/270457.

Tasca, Cecilia, et al. “Women and Hysteria in the History of Mental Health.” Clinical Practice

and Epidemiology in Mental Health : CP & EMH, Bentham Open, 2012,

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480686/.

Trimble, M., and E.H. Reynolds. “A Brief History of Hysteria: From the Ancient to the

Modern.” Handbook of Clinical Neurology, Elsevier, 6 Oct. 2016,

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780128017722000011.

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